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Heeeeeerrrre…”: The New Dark Eldar Codex by
Are you back yet? Good. Ladies and gentlemen, fanboys and fangirls, this may be the best codex Games Workshop has ever written. A bold statement, I know, but I sincerely believe it. Of course, maybe my enthusiasm has been artificially jacked into the stratosphere by the excruciating wait that I and all other Dark Eldar players had to endure. The first DE ‘dex was released in 1998, at the beginning of the Third Edition era, and had a minor update in 2003. In between then and now, most armies received two new codices (the Chaos Marine emo-poseurs received three). Like Daemonhunters, Witch Hunters, and Necrons, the Dark Eldar were pushed to the backburner by Games Workshop, and rumors flew for several years that the Death Twinkies would go the way of the Squats.
Now, however, the Dark Eldar are back, in a HUGE way. As I’ve done in reviews of the Space Marine and Chaos codices, I’ll tell you what I liked (a lot), what I didn’t like (not much), and what I’m ambivalent about (again, not much). I won’t talk about everything —the new ‘dex has all kinds of dirty little secrets that will be more fun if you find on your own—but I’ll talk about the stuff that jumped out at me.
Ready? Off we go….
What I Like
Commorragh, where most Dark Eldar dwell, is vividly described and is even worse than you might imagine. The section that tells the story of Asdrubael Vect’s rise to power is a little over the top, but just as it starts to get tiring, it ends. A brief timeline follows that gives some major milestones in Death Twinkie history. The fluff powerfully portrays the Dark Eldar, sets the tone, tells its story, remains believable, and then—and this is usually a problem for Games Workshop’s writers—gets off the stage before it wears out its welcome. Not too much, not too little: just right.
Racial Special Rules. Dark Eldar have always struggled because they were so fragile: most had Toughness 3 and tissue paper for armor. They also had problems because their basic Warriors were relatively cheap, but not that effective: an Ork Boy—with his WS 4, T 4, and 2 Attacks base (4 for second weapon and charging)—was better and cheaper (6 points vis-à-vis 8). And splinter rifles (S3, AP 5) were a joke: sure, lasguns are similar, but Imperial Guard players could get a whole lot more of them because Guardsmen were much cheaper.
The new DE rules remedy those problems. Dark Eldar units that destroy enemies gain “pain tokens” that grant them more powers (Feel No Pain, Furious Charge, and Fearlessness) the more enemies they kill. Splinter weapons are now Poisoned, making DE more likely to wound opponents. DE retain the Fleet rule, and pick up Night Vision as well, making them one of the few armies I know of that actually excels under the Night Fighting rules.
Slice-n-Dice HQ Units. Archons are as scary as they’ve ever been, and, with the plethora of new and fiendish DE weapons, they have even more ways to hurt you. Archons can no longer take Reaver jetbikes, which is a bit of bummer, but they can get their own Raider or Venom transport if they take a Court (more about them later). Succubi are uber-Wyches, and, of course, there’s nothing suck about them. Formally, Haemonculi were useful as second bananas, but you wouldn’t want them leading your army: now, they’re a perfectly good alternative to the others.
None of these choices really matter, though, as most players will simply glom onto the overpowered Special Characters that infest this codex. I’ll rant about them later.
New, Expanded, and Interesting Elite Units. Previously, DE were starved for solid Elite units. There were Wyches—who rocked—and then there were everything else—Mandrakes, Grotesques, Warp Beasts—who, frankly, sucked. In this version of the codex, Elite units have been made much, much better.
Incubi have been unshackled from the Archon and moved to Elites; their big problem before was that they were slow, but now they can Fleet, too. Grotesques are improved, Mandrakes are improved, but then, those two units were so bad that there was nowhere to go but up. New units are Wracks (close-combat assistants for Haemonculi), Harlequins (!), Kabalite Trueborn (think Sternguard for Dark Eldar), and Hekatrix Bloodbrides (Wyches with +1 Attacks and +1 Leadership).
You’re limited to three Elite units per detachment, and they’re all so good, it will be hard to choose which to take. If you put a splinter pistol to my head and made me pick three, I’d choose (in order) Incubi, Mandrakes, and Grotesques. All three give you good bang for your buck when it comes to close combat, which is probably what you want a DE Elite unit for (Warriors and Heavy Support have the Shooting Phase covered). I’m not as sold on the others (I’d probably rank Harelquins last), but none of them are bad choices.
Good Troops and Transports. “Raider Squads” and “Warrior Squads” are no more: Kabalite Warriors are 9 points now instead of 8, can only take one “special” weapon (blaster or shredder), and are restricted in the number of heavy weapons they can take depending on squad size (10 guys for one heavy, 20 guys for two). The fact that splinter weapons are now Poisoned (wounding on 4+) more than compensates, and the Warriors can take Raiders or Venoms.
Wyches are now Troops—under the old rules, you could take them as Troops if you played a “Wych army,” but that entailed several restrictions (some of them significant). If you prefer your Twinkies to shoot from a distance (or aboard a flying transport), take Warriors. If you, like my friend Pat, are an unrepentant close-combat junkie, then Wyches are your huckleberry.
Raiders got more expensive (you'll pay 60 points now) but can swap out its dark lance for a disintegrator for free. Vehicle upgrades are much improved, even over those offered in the 2003 revision. Is anyone out there NOT going to use flickerfields (5+ Invulnerable Save) for their transports? I think not. Torment grenade launchers are not as good as the horrorfexes they replaced, but splinter racks (allowing one to re-rolled missed splinter rifle and –pistol shots) are nice.
Venoms, by the way, are 5-man versions of Raiders, with fewer upgrade options and only 5 points less (base). However, the illustration on page 43 hints that they’re based on the Vyper airframe, so they should be easier to hide behind scenery, and there’s nothing sad about that.
Fast Attack is Where It’s At. Previous versions of DE Fast Attack choices were wretched. Reavers? Overpriced, underpowered, and fragile. Hellions? Child, please. However, similarly to how the Elite units have vastly improved, so to have the Fast Attack. Points and local currency expended here are now well spent.
Hellions got better at shooting and better at fighting, but perhaps the best thing about them is their nasty little trick of using a stunclaw to yank an enemy Independent Character out of melee and carry him/her/it off with them, to resume the fight elsewhere under much-more favorable odds (for the Hellions, anyway). If you use Hellions in this heinous manner, please refrain, if you can, from giggling.
Scourges are now Fast Attack—did anyone take them for Heavy Support? Most DE players I know didn’t. What they used to call “Warp Beasts” back in the old codex are no longer bound to Wyches, but other than that, I’m not jazzed about them (see below).
Bladevanes, cluster caltrops, and their 36" Turbo Boost ensure that Reavers will tear through enemy squads. In the original codex, Reavers were described as a sub-sect of Wyches, but using them for close combat back then was as silly as voting Republican in the state of Maryland (don’t bother: you’re just going to lose). Now they are the best bike unit in the game.
Smashmouth Heavy Support. Dark Eldar didn’t use to have a lot of Heavy Support choices, but that’s changed, and all of them are good. The Ravager is markedly improved just by the fact that, thanks to its Aerial Assault ability, it can fire all its heavy weapons while moving at cruising speed. The Talos Pain Engine has more weapon options than before, can rack up pain tokens (Feel No Pain for something with T7, 3 Wounds, and 3+ Save?—That’s just wrong), and can use a webway portal to come onto the board, avoiding enemy attention until it’s up close and personal. The Cronos Parasite dispenses pain tokens to other units, a nice use of combined arms. The Razorwing and the Voidraven continue the 5th Edition trend of bringing bigger and badder toys to the table: think of them as the DE versions of the Imperial Guard Valkyrie and Vendetta.
Weapons, Wargear, and Vehicle Upgrades. They’re almost all good, and there are many new ones to give players options and to fill in gaps in the Dark Eldars’ armory. Most of the items added in the 2003 update are included, with some tweaking, so if you really got off on using an Archangel of Pain, it’s still there. As I’ve mentioned, the vehicle upgrades are also quality, even if some of them work a little differently than they used to.
My favorites? Aside from the aforementioned splinter weapons, I like haywire blasters, which give the Death Twinkies some longer range (24") anti-tank weaponry: my guys have struggled in the past to take out enemy vehicles. The dark gate has a Lovecraftian feel to it: older gamers might be reminded of the Elder Elemental God worshipped by certain dark elves in the classic 1st Edition AD&D module, Hall of the Fire Giant King. Despite my fears, the webway portal has *not* been horribly nerfed, though now vehicles may not use it.
Beginners’ Guide to Kicking Ass and Taking Names. Even with the power boost and added options that Dark Eldar get with this book, they’re still not the easiest army to use. Games Workshop helpfully provides a few pages of tactical advice for new players—which, I’m sure, they are expecting a lot of. A few years ago, I pondered how, if the Dark Eldar were canceled, I might use the Eldar rules for my Ozone Scorpions; now, I think some Eldar players will wonder how they can switch their guys to the Dark Side….
What I Don’t Like
No Cheap Leaders. The old codex allowed one to take a Haemonculus for as little as 25 points, perfect for low-point games. The cheapest DE HQ is still the Haemonculus, but now he/she/it costs 50 points base. This follows a familiar trend for 5e codices, and seeing as how other armies suffer from it, too, I can’t kvetch too much.
“Chaos Elves.” The ghost of Mr. Blackwell gives a thorough review of the new DE miniatures here, and for the most part, I like what GW has released so far. Some of them, however, especially the new Incubi (with those horns) look like “Chaos Elves.” Too many spikes, too much black—meh.
Quotes. The new codex tries hard, but it doesn't have anything as good as this quip from the previous book:
another plaything. This one seems to have broken."
...or my favorite:
"I am truly
disappointed that cruel fate has placed us in this position, such that
I really have no choice other than
is still time. Any who leave now will be spared and I give you my word
that they will be granted
Yes, I know I'm quibbling. However, I feel very strongly about the next item.
More Special Characters Nonsense. Let me climb up onto my soapbox—AGAIN—and rail—AGAIN—about my hatred for special characters, especially Games Workshop’s encouraging people to buy their sure-to-be very-expensive models, slapping another name on them, and using them as “their” character. While the DE special characters don’t seem overpowered for their point cost, what annoys me about them is that soon, you’ll see at least one of these clowns in every frickin’ army. There’s nothing “special” and “unique” about these characters if they’re everywhere.
And why do so many players use special characters? Because they give you goodies you can’t get from generic HQ units; though you pay for those goodies, they are well worth it. If all you care about is winning, then you’re a chump not to take special characters. If, however, having a unique, distinctive army, one that is yours and not some cookie-cutter imitation of someone else’s, is more important to you, then shun them as you would a Rosie O'Donnell sex tape.
What I’m On the
Court of the Archon. You’ll want to get your Archon into hand-to-hand tout de suite, but, as I mentioned, he no longer has the option of taking a Reaver jetbike. Other than attaching him to a squad, the only way you can give him a transport is to surround him with a Court. If you do, you have to take at least one Lhamaean, one Medusa, one Sslyth, and one Ur-Ghul. Taken from the twisted, sadistic Dark Eldar perspective, all of them are rather amusing.
For 10 points, the Lhamaean is a basic Kabalite Warrior with Ld 9 whose splinter pistol and close combat weapon are powerfully poisoned (2+): she also makes the Archon’s poisoned weapons similarly potent. The Medusa (15 points) fires a template of d6+1 Strength and d6 AP, rolled every time you fire: you toss the dice and take your chances. The Sslyth are snaky, multi-armed alien bodyguards good at close combat and plenty tough (including Feel No Pain), but pricy at 35 points. Ur-Ghuls are 15 points of assault messiness, with 4 Attacks on the charge at Strength 5, Initiative 6, thanks to Furious Charge. They also have Feel No Pain.
So while the Courtiers don’t suck, my problem with all this is that, bare minimum, you’ll spend 75 points in addition to what you pay for the Archon (60 points), whatever toys he wants, and whatever ride he’ll need (+55 base for a Venom, +60 base for a Raider). I try to avoid spending more than 10% of my army’s points on HQ, preferring not to put a bunch of eggs in one basket. If you’re all right with sinking lots of points into your main man, have a party with the Court.
Scourges. These guys used to be Heavy Support choices packing either splinter cannons or dark lances; now they’re Fast Attack and (most of them, anyway) carry lighter weaponry. I wasn’t wild about them before, and I’m not wild about them now. I’m curious to see what the new models look like, because the illustration on page 32 of the new codex makes them look like Hawkman Gone Bad. Which is to say, ridiculous.
As for me, I’ve already started reconfiguring my army, and I can’t wait to unleash the new and vastly-improved Kabal of the Ozone Scorpions….
Posted November 2010. All images are copyright 2010 by Games Workshop and used for review purposes.
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